Thursday, September 19, 2019

#gretchensbooks2019 - July/August

Ah. Another month where I said I would be better about writing my thoughts as soon as I finished a book, and another month where I sit here IN THE MIDDLE OF SEPTEMBER, trying to remember how I felt about the books I finished over a month ago. Whoops. My thoughts are short and sweet, y'all. (I WILL do better in September!)

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(Summaries are from Amazon, but all reviews are my own!)

63. Bear Town by Fredrik Backman (3.5/5 ★)

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever-encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

I honestly think I chose this book because of the hockey theme, but it was about a lot more than that. I feel like it is geared toward a younger age group, probably older teen, as it is a tough topic on a pretty surface level. It took awhile to get into the plot. I was about a third of the way in and was thinking, "what is the point of this story??" It also wrapped up really quickly. I don't know. I think younger readers would enjoy it more than I did.

64. Four to Score by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5★)

Working for her bail bondsman cousin Vinnie, Stephanie is hot on the trail of revenge-seeking waitress Maxine Nowicki, whose crimes include bail jumping, theft, and extortion. Someone is terrifying Maxine's friends, and those who have seen her are turning up dead. Also on the hunt for Maxine is Joyce Barnhardt, Stephanie's archenemy and rival bounty hunter. Stephanie's attitude never wavers-- even when aided by crazy Grandma Mazur, ex-hooker and wannabe bounty hunter Lula, and transvestite rock musician Sally Sweet-- and even when Stephanie makes an enemy whose deadly tactics escalate from threatening messages to firebombs. All of this pales in comparison, though, with an even greater danger Stephanie faces, when, homeless and broke, she and her hamster Rex move in with a vice cop Joe Morelli. RATED PG35 for licentious wit and libidinous cohabitation.

Again, there is nothing I can say for this books that wasn't true for the rest of the series. I think I liked this one less than the first ones, but there were still parts that made me literally LOL.

65. A Murder in Music City: Corruption, Scandal, and the Framing of an Innocent Man by Michael Bishop (5/5 ★)

A private citizen discovers compelling evidence that a decades-old murder in Nashville was not committed by the man who went to prison for the crime but was the result of a conspiracy involving elite members of Nashville society.Nashville 1964. Eighteen-year-old babysitter Paula Herring is murdered in her home while her six-year-old brother apparently sleeps through the grisly event. A few months later a judge's son is convicted of the crime. Decades after the slaying, Michael Bishop, a private citizen,stumbles upon a secret file related to the case and with the help of some of the world's top forensic experts--including forensic psychologist Richard Walter (aka "the living Sherlock Holmes")--he uncovers the truth. What really happened is completely different from what the public was led to believe.Now, for the very first time, Bishop reveals the true story. In this true-crime page-turner, the author lays out compelling evidence that a circle of powerful citizens were key participants in the crime and the subsequent cover-up. The ne'er-do-well judge's son, who was falsely accused and sent to prison, proved to be the perfect setup man. The perpetrators used his checkered history to conceal the real facts for over half a century. Including interviews with the original defense attorney and a murder confession elicited from a nursing-home resident, the information presented here will change Nashville history forever.

This was my favorite book this month, I think mainly in part due to my familiarity with its setting. It was so easy for me to picture the places these events took place, even though Nashville has drastically changed since the 1960s. One thing I hated was that they kept calling the victim the 'babysitter' when she was the kid's older sister. I understand that was what the media called her when it all took place, but it just kept popping up and annoying me.  It was fascinating to read about the conspiracies and cover ups that took place.

66. The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand (3.5 ★)

It's Nantucket wedding season, also known as summer-the sight of a bride racing down Main Street is as common as the sun setting at Madaket Beach. The Otis-Winbury wedding promises to be an event to remember: the groom's wealthy parents have spared no expense to host a lavish ceremony at their oceanfront estate.

But it's going to be memorable for all the wrong reasons after tragedy strikes: a body is discovered in Nantucket Harbor just hours before the ceremony-and everyone in the wedding party is suddenly a suspect. As Chief of Police Ed Kapenash interviews the bride, the groom, the groom's famous mystery-novelist mother, and even a member of his own family, he discovers that every wedding is a minefield-and no couple is perfect. Featuring beloved characters from The Castaways, Beautiful Day, and A Summer Affair, The Perfect Couple proves once again that Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of the summer beach read.

This would have been the perfect beach read, though I listened to it on audiobook. A friend had recommended it to me, but I had also seen it recommended by a lot of bookstagramers this summer. This is the first Hilderbrand book that I've read, but afterwards I definitely plan on reading more. It was a fun little mystery that kept me guessing. I have seen many friends post about her, so I am excited to starting reading more from her collection.

67. A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (5/5★)

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center - a women's reproductive health services clinic - its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage. 
After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his 15-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic. 
But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the crosshairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard. 
Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day. 
I've read enough of Picoult to know that I don't usually care for her books.  The storyline is usually good, but they're so long and she drags them out that I lose interest.  This one was different. I loved this book. I listened to part on audiobook which may have helped because I speed up to 1.5x, but every part of it felt relevant and necessary to the story. Also, the performer for the audiobook was Bahni Turpin, who also performed The Hate U Give and she is fabulous. I originally chose this book because of her narration, actually.

68. Still Alice by Lisa Genova (4/5★)

Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman's sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer's disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph. D in neuroscience from Harvard University.
Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer's disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what's it's like to literally lose your mind...
This book was recommended to me pretty frequently, so I finally got around to reading it. Alzheimer's isn't something I've had personal experience with - as in I've never known anyone who has had it - so this was really my first perspective. It is a fictional story, but in a realistic sense. I watched the movie afterwards which was also good, minus the whole Kristin Stewart thing.

Image result for thin air 69. Thin Air by Lisa Gray (3/5★)

Private investigator Jessica Shaw is used to getting anonymous tips. But after receiving a photo of a three-year-old kidnapped from Los Angeles twenty-five years ago, Jessica is stunned to recognize the little girl as herself.
Eager for answers, Jessica heads to LA’s dark underbelly. When she learns that her biological mother was killed the night she was abducted, Jessica’s determined to solve a case the police have forgotten. Meanwhile, veteran LAPD detective Jason Pryce is in the midst of a gruesome investigation into a murdered college student moonlighting as a prostitute. A chance encounter leads to them crossing paths, but Jessica soon realizes that Pryce is hiding something about her father’s checkered history and her mother’s death.
To solve her mother’s murder and her own disappearance, Jessica must dig into the past and find the secrets buried there. But the air gets thinner as she crawls closer to the truth, and it’s getting harder and harder to breathe.

I read this one on my kindle spread over some time. I don't read digital books often, but I always keep one on my phone just in case I'm stuck somewhere waiting. I received this free through Prime reading, and it was okay. I was curious throughout the story, but didn't feel like it was overly suspenseful.

70. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (3/5★)

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben.

Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

Of her three books that I have read, this is my least favorite. It wasn't bad, it was just weird, way too weird. That is all.

71. The Elizas by Sara Shepard (3/5 ★)

When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?

The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel, until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.

I chose this book because it was written by the same author as the Pretty Little Liar and The Lying Game series, which I loved when I read them five years ago. This one was a little slower. About half way through I got a little more into it and felt like the suspense increased, but it definitely wasn't a favorite. 

Image result for high five janet evanovich 72. High Five by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5 ★)

Out of bail skippers and rent money, Stephanie Plum throws caution to the wind and follows in the entrepreneurial bootsteps of Super Bounty Hunter, Ranger, engaging in morally correct and marginally legal enterprises. So, a scumball blows himself to smithereens on her first day of policing a crack house and the sheik she was chauffeuring stole the limo. But hey, nobody's perfect! Anyway, Stephanie has other things on her mind. Her mother wants her to find Uncle Fred who's missing after arguing with his garbage company; homicidal rapist Benito Ramirez is back, quoting scripture and stalking Stephanie; vice cop Joe Morelli has a box of condoms with Stephanie's name on it; and Stephanie's afraid Ranger has his finger on her trigger.

I listened to this one on audiobook because the library didn't have a physical copy and I didn't want to wait until I could get to McKay's. Everyone said the audiobooks were great, but I didn't love it. The narrator was weird, and not in a good way. I like to speed up my audiobooks, but I listened to this one via discs and was unable to speed it up, so it felt like the story moved slow because the narration was slow. Still a fun, lighthearted story though!

73. Hot Six by Janet Evanovich (3.5/5★)

Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum and Trenton vice cop Joe Morelli join forces to find the madman killer who shot and barbecued the youngest son of international black-market arms dealer Alexander Ramos.
Carlos Manoso, street name Ranger, is caught on video just minutes before the crime occurs. He's at the scene, he's with the victim, and he's the number-one suspect. Ranger is former special forces turned soldier of fortune. He has a blue-chip stock portfolio and no known address. He moves in mysterious circles. He's Stephanie's mentor--the man who taught her everything she knows about fugitive apprehension. And he's more than her friend.
Now he's the hunted and Stephanie's the hunter, and it's time for her to test her skills against the master. But if she does catch him...what then? Can she bring herself to turn him in?

Plus there are other things keeping Stephanie awake at night. Her maternal grandmother has set up housekeeping in Stephanie's apartment, a homicidal maniac has selected Stephanie as his next victim, her love life is in the toilet, she's adopted a dog with an eating disorder, and she can't button the top snap on her Levi's.

See above thoughts haha. As I've said before, these books are mostly all the same, but they're fun and light, especially when read between books with heavier content or extra suspense.

Image result for the silent patient74. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (4/5★) 

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.
Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.
Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations―a search for the truth that threatens to consume him....

Holy cow. yes to this book. Yes yes yes. At first I was like, "nah, kinda slow and predictable." Then I finsihed it. And as it turns out it was not predictable. I feel like I should have figured it out before I got to the end, but I didn't. I was fooled.

75. Becoming by Michelle Obama (5/5 ★)

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare. 

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

I waited forever and a year to finally get my hands on a copy of this one. And then I didn't have the time to actually sit down and read it once I finally got it checked out.  Luckily, a friend had a copy she let me borrow! I just want to start by saying, I LOVE Michelle's writing, just absolutely love it.  She writes so eloquently; it was a very smooth read. That being said, it is LONG. I put it down and picked it up a handful of times, eventually finishing it on audiobook (which I enjoyed since Michelle was the narrator). She speaks at such a higher level however, that it is a lot to handle at one time. I broke it up with other books quite frequently. Outside of Barrack's presidency, I knew very little about her life, so this was an interesting read.

76. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (5/5★)
Image result for on the come up

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.
But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons.
Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.  
Insightful, unflinching, and full of heart, On the Come Up is an ode to hip hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free.

I listened to this on audiobook after LOVING Thomas's The Hate You Give. The narrator is absolutely fabulous - I've raved about her before. This was another great book by Thomas. Whether you read a physical/digital copy, or listen to it via audio, I definitely recommend it. It is so very eye opening to anyone NOT living a life like this.

77. Seven Up by Janet Evanovich (3.5★)

Semiretired mob guy Eddie DeCooch is caught trafficking contraband cigarettes through Trenton, New Jersey. When DeCooch fails to show for a court appearance, bond enforcement agent Stephanie Plum is assigned the task of finding him and dragging his decrepit ass back to jail. Not such an easy job, it turns out, since DeCooch has learned a lot of tricks over the years and isn't afraid to use his gun. He's already shot Loretta Ricci, an innocent old lady, and left her for worm food in his shed. He wouldn't mind shooting Stephanie next.
Likeable losers (and Steph's former high school classmates) Walter "MoonMan" Dunphy and Dougie "The Dealer" Kruper have inadvertently become involved with DeCooch. They've gotten sucked into an operation that is much more than simple cigarette smuggling and holds risks far greater than anyone could have imagined.
When Dougie disappears, Steph goes into search mode. When Mooner disappears, she calls in the heavy artillery and asks master bounty hunter Ranger for help. Ranger's price for the job? One night with Stephanie, dusk to dawn. Not information she's want to share with her sometime live-in roommate, vice cop Joe Morelli,
A typical dilemma in the world of Plum.
And on the homefront, Stephanie's "perfect" sister, Valerie, has decided to move back to Trenton, bringing her two kids from hell with her. Grandma Mazur is asking questions about being a lesbian, and Bob, the bulimic dog, is eating everything in sight--including the furniture.
Mud wrestling, motorcycles, fast cars, fast food, and fast men. It's Seven Up. Absolutely Janet Evanovich at her very best.

Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V above thoughts :) 

Image result for bring me back78. Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris (4/5★)

Finn and Layla are young, in love, and on vacation. They’re driving along the highway when Finn decides to stop at a service station to use the restroom. He hops out of the car, locks the doors behind him, and goes inside. When he returns Layla is gone―never to be seen again. That is the story Finn told to the police. But it is not the whole story.
Ten years later Finn is engaged to Layla’s sister, Ellen. Their shared grief over what happened to Layla drew them close and now they intend to remain together. Still, there’s something about Ellen that Finn has never fully understood. His heart wants to believe that she is the one for him...even though a sixth sense tells him not to trust her.

Then, not long before he and Ellen are to be married, Finn gets a phone call. Someone from his past has seen Layla―hiding in plain sight. There are other odd occurrences: Long-lost items from Layla’s past that keep turning up around Finn and Ellen’s house. Emails from strangers who seem to know too much. Secret messages, clues, warnings. If Layla is alive―and on Finn’s trail―what does she want? And how much does she know?

This book was strange, and unpredictable. I've read a couple B.A. Paris before, but I think this has been my favorite. It was suspenseful and kept you wondering throughout! 

Image result for just one night79. Just One Night by Gayle Forman (5/5 ★) 

It all starts when American good girl Allyson--better known as Lulu-- decides to spend just one day in Paris with Dutch hottie Willem. It's a whirlwind adventure filled with heart-racing romance, but the next day Willem is gone without a trace. What follows is one year of searching that ends with a steamy reunion on the one wonderful night when they finally find one another again. Filled with mystery, drama, adventure, and of course romance, this is a swoony and satisfying entry point for new readers of Gayle Forman's bestselling fiction.

To be compeltely honest, this book was rated because I loved the series rather than just this story. Just One Night was a short story that goes along with Just One Day  and Just One Year. The whole set is linked in the title. Forman is the author of If I Stay, which is what originally led me to read this series. I definitely prefer this series to the If I Stay books. I put off reading this one because they only make a digital copy and I had been hoping a hard copy would come out so I could buy it to put with the others. It never did so I finally caved and checked it out via Kindle!

Reading Challenge: 78/50 books read in 2019

You can find previous book reviews here!

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